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The Story of Betty Moo
It was a calm morning, and the cows munched happily on the dew-soaked grass. A fog rolled lazily through the trees. Jesse walked out to the pasture to say good morning to her favorite cow, Betty Moo. Jesse had just learned to whistle and was practicing with an old song her father had taught her.
“You sure got it figured out, Betty,” said the girl. “You just lay around all day, eating and sleeping, as if you don’t have a care in the world.”
Betty Moo didn’t respond; she just strolled over to the watering trough and drank the cool, fresh water. Jesse saw this and realized that she was thirsty too. She said goodbye to Betty Moo and started to walk back to her house to get a glass of water. She looked across the fields as she walked. They were planted with cabbage and potatoes and seemed to go on forever.
That night at dinner, Jesse jokingly told her father that she wanted to be a cow when she grew up, just like Betty Moo. Her father smiled and played along. “A cow?” he said, “Why’s that?” “It just seems so easy,” replied the girl. “They just lay around all day and eat grass.”
“Well, it’s easy for them because we take care of them,” said her father. “Like many other things in nature, Betty Moo depends on us. Do you know what stewardship is?” “No,” said Jesse, scrunching up her face and trying to think. “What’s that?”
“Stewardship means taking good care of something that you have responsibility for. As farmers, we impact the land we farm and the animals on and around it. One of our responsibilities is to make sure that we don’t harm nature while growing food for people to eat.” “I don’t understand,” said the girl. “How could we harm the land?”
“Well, you were probably too young to remember when we bought this farm,” said the father. “Betty Moo and a few other cows were here, but they didn’t have it as good then as they do now.”
Jesse smiled because she realized her father was going to tell a story. It was winter, a few weeks after the family had bought the farm. The farmer and his wife stood by their truck and looked out over the fields.
“So this is it,” said the wife. “It needs work, but I like it.” It certainly did need work. The cows were standing in mud up to their knees and drinking from the same stream the previous farmer often used for dumping waste. Not only was the stream cluttered with debris, but it was also bright green and choked with algae. This told the farmer that the fields had way too much fertilizer on them, and rain was washing that fertilizer into the stream.
Not only were the cows miserable, but the farm’s neighbors also had to deal with the erosion and pollution downstream.
“Here they are,” said the wife, as a blue truck bumped toward them on the dirt road. It had the words St. Johns River Water Management District on the side. A woman got out of the truck when it stopped.
The woman smiled at the farmer and his wife.
“I’m with the district,” she said. “We talked on the phone.” She was there because the farmer had asked to meet with someone from the district to discuss best management practices. He wanted to clean up the farm.
The woman from the district tested the soil and confirmed what the farmer had thought. The farm’s soil was over fertilized, and excessive fertilizer from the farm was going into the stream. The woman from the district suggested several best management practices that could help. She explained to the farmer that best management practices grow healthy plants, with less water and fertilizer. This saves water and keeps pollution out of surface waters.
After the woman from the district left, the farmer decided to begin implementing the best management practices immediately.
First, the farmer installed water control structures. Throughout the farm, ditches collected the water that ran off the fields and it washed into the stream. The water control structures blocked the ditches to hold the water back. This helped conserve water and kept the fertilizer-rich water on the fields, where it could help the crops grow, instead of running into the stream.
When it came time to plant, the farmer planted corn and beans in some of the fields, adding variety, not just cabbage and potatoes. Alternating crops in a field helps to improve the productivity of the soil while reducing the risks of insects and plant disease. Corn and beans also need less fertilizer to grow, so the farmer didn’t need to use as much. This meant that less fertilizer would wash into the stream.
To keep animal waste out of the stream, the farmer built a fence to keep the cows out of it. He built a pond with a water trough and gave the cows clean water. Grass soon began to grow on the steep stream banks, reducing erosion and filtering rainwater.
The farmer seeded the cows’ pasture to eliminate the mud. He rotated the grazing cows into different pastures throughout the year. He also began collecting and storing manure to use as fertilizer. The cows were happy, and less sediment and pollution was washing into the stream.
Finally, it came time to put fertilizers on the fields so the farmer’s crops would grow. The farmer knew that excess fertilizer washed off the fields and into the stream in the rain, and he wanted to keep the stream clean. So, he used only as much fertilizer as he needed.
When he was done, the farmer looked out over the farm and smiled. As he did this, one of the cows ambled up next to him. The farmer looked at the cow. He thought the animal looked happier and, perhaps, was even thanking him.
“You’re welcome, Betty,” he said. “Yeah, that’s a good name for you. I think I’ll call you Betty Moo.”
As the farmer finished the story, his daughter looked out the window. The sun was setting, and Jesse could see the stream that ran along their farm. She spent a lot of time playing beside that stream, and it made her sad to imagine it polluted. She could also see the cows in the distance, including Betty Moo.
“So it’s up to us to keep our land healthy and productive,” Jesse said.
“Yes, but it’s bigger than that,” replied Jesse’s father. “Our stream runs into the river a few miles from here, and we keep the river healthy by doing our part. Like everyone else, on a farm or in a city, the things we do affect everyone’s water resources. It’s a pretty big responsibility.”
Suddenly, the father chuckled. “But you won’t have to worry about that if you’re a cow,” he said.
Jesse shook her head. “I don’t want to be a cow anymore,” she said. “I’d rather be a steward like you. I think I will be a farmer when I grow up.”